Seeking Truth? Navigating in the Age of Alternate Facts
By Rick Nelson
Until last year I rarely, if ever, found time to read. Oh, I’d glance at the headlines to stay current and scan the periodicals to stay abreast of the changes in our industry. But I couldn’t find the time to digest a whole self-improvement book or lounge with a copy of some adventure on my device. Then, late last year, a friend encouraged me to try an audible book. So. one evening, I decided to listen to a book rather than music while I worked out.
I am forever changed.
In the last six months I’ve listened to a variety of blogs, articles and books (some twice) that have informed, educated, challenged, and most importantly, encouraged me to think more deeply and more considerately than ever before.
As I listen, absorb, and entertain all this new information, I’m left with an overwhelming, sometimes sinking feeling…. What information can I trust? How do I decipher truth from fiction, right from wrong, opinion from fact, information from propaganda? The volumes of information at our disposal are infinite. That doesn’t mean it’s all tested, well thought out, or factual.
To make getting to the real truth more difficult, a 1975 Stanford University study showed that personal impression was more important than facts! People demonstrated they would ignore facts to maintain their initial belief. I hate to say it, but I know I’ve done that before. Social media, for instance, amplifies the risk of an echo chamber effect through algorithms that bring us more and more of what we “like” instead of diverse viewpoints. This results in opinions that are galvanized through selective data points, but weakened by imbalance. Then, using that already limited view, we run everything through our personal filter. Life experiences, core values, and biases adjust our perspective on what the “truth” is.
“The truth.” Dumbledore sighed. “It is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with great caution.”
― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Shaken through so many different sieves, this process rarely leaves any two people in possession of the same “truth.” In business, in politics, and in life, this diversity of worldview can lead to beautiful things…or it can be catastrophic. Catastrophic when stubbornness, closed-mindedness, and siloed thinking create conflict, animosity, and disruption. Beautiful when people leverage their different views in service of collaboration, appreciation, and progress.
Abraham Lincoln knew the weakness of siloed thinking. While many leaders (understandably) fill their staff roles with similarly-minded individuals, Lincoln took a radical, courageous approach and appointed to his cabinet a group of his greatest detractors. His willingness to explore truths other than his own, and his determination to unite multiple viewpoints in pursuit of common goals, helped him lead a nation through its most trying time. (Team of Rivals, Dorris Kearns Goodwin)
I don’t pretend to have all the answers on this topic – but I have decided on a few initial action steps to improve the quality and confidence of what I hear, read and watch.
- Spend equal time on multiple sides of complex issues
- For every suggested read from the algorithms, read one of opposing view
- Fact check!
I’ll let you know how that works. Until then, I’ll keep listening, reading and watching. I’ll just be doing it more thoughtfully. As Benjamin Franklin wrote, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”
TAG Partner and Chairman, Launch Consulting Group
How do you filter your information and inputs to discern the truth?
Please share what works for you: firstname.lastname@example.org
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